Early this morning sitting at the breakfast table, I scanned a copy of “Life is…
It’s official…today I made it to the halfway point of a “Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” thanks to the 26 amazing women who shared the trail and themselves with me. Last November and December when I was feeling lonely and isolated due to COVID, hiking seemed like a good idea and a safe way to connect with other women. Never did I dream it would be so much fun and so rewarding! I feel extremely fortunate and incredibly grateful to each and every one of them.
So let me tell you about Diane Garavaglia, my hiking companion for the 26th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail.” To provide a little backstory, I called Diane a few days before our hike to introduce myself and confirm that we would meet at Smithsburg Elementary at 8:00 a.m. on June 29th. Since we’ve never met, I told Diane that she should be on the lookout for a woman driving a red Subaru Outback and she replied that I should be on the lookout for a woman driving a black convertible Miata. Wowza, that’s one cool car! From that moment on, I was looking forward to spending time with Diane on the Appalachian Trail (and, at some point in the future, in her fancy dancy car!)
Well, we met at the school as planned, except due to circumstances beyond Diane’s control, she was driving a black Hyundai instead. What…no Miata??? Don’t worry, she promised to take me for a ride another day…lucky me! As we were excited to hike and undeterred by the heat and humidity, we started down the trail at a brisk pace. Per usual, I took the first photo of day, of Diane and myself, in the field just off Route 77. The vegetation was lush, the sky was blue, and I was an absolute knucklehead! I’ll tell you more about that later.
As we set off down the sun dappled trail, I asked Diane about her work and growing up. She’s an independent sales rep for educational materials, selling mostly to school districts in Maryland and Pennsylvania. She grew up in Illinois, and has an older brother and an older sister, with whom she is very close. Diane’s dad passed away a few years ago but her mother is still healthy and living independently. Diane misses her Dad…he got her. In her mid-twenties, when she finally decided to come out to him, he said, “I was waiting for you to figure that out.” Nothing else was said. He accepted her. He loved her. He wanted his daughter to love and be loved. End of story.
Picking our way over the rocky trail, we talked a lot about motherhood. In fact, I was so engrossed in our conversation, I completely forgot to get a picture of Diane by the lichen covered wall. Diane has an adopted son, Daniel, who recently turned 17 and by all accounts is a real go-getter! Ambitious and entrepreneurial, he started his own successful business designing and printing t-shirts. He’s also outgoing, confident and competitive and excels in both schoolwork and swimming. As one proud mother to another, I said, “It’s obvious how much you love your son.” Diane replied, “I definitely do love him, but I also really like him. Sometimes that’s even more important.” Wow…that some good “Mama Wisdom!” After sharing lots of stories, we concluded that it is critical to encourage kids to spread their wings but admitted it is HARD to let them go.
Approaching the powerline field, the conversation shifted to our significant others, my husband and Diane’s partner, Deja. I’ve been married to Matt for 41 years and Diane and Deja have been together for three years. We agreed that the daily ins and outs of relationships are pretty much the same for heterosexual and lesbian couples. Couples do what couples do. They create a loving home, nurture each other, problem solve, provide for their family, take vacations and dream of retiring. Like my husband and me, Diane and Deja have spent entire weekends cheering for children at sporting events, worried about loved ones, helped teenagers navigate difficult issues, moved adult children into new homes and treasured time with grandchildren. When I asked Diane what advice she would want to pass on she said, “Be who you are. Sometimes that can be difficult but it’s worth it. Be authentic.” Diane’s strength is evident in her words and if you look closely, you can see it in the photo of her striking the “strong woman” pose.
As we headed toward Warner Hollow, I was struck by the near absence of cicadas. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots and lots of cicada carcasses crunching under foot but compared to the near-deafening cicada song of the past few weeks the woods were quiet and peaceful. For the first time in a month, I could actually hear birdsong. In addition to hearing birds, we saw a beautiful Indigo Bunting, a Queensnake (I think) and a gigantic millipede. We didn’t stay long by the stream at Warner Hollow because there was what sounded like prolonged artillery practice going on. Honestly, it sounded like a war zone. As we trekked back up the incline, several nervous-looking, thru-hikers asked it if it was safe to continue down the trail…very disconcerting, indeed!
We didn’t see many wildflowers on this hike but saw lots of mushrooms and one fantastic mushroom hunter. Diane and I felt privileged to meet “Phil the Forager” …he was so knowledgeable! Phil has expertise in finding healthy, local foods that grow in the wild and is willing to share it with others. He gave us a little mycology lesson…told us about the different varieties of edible mushrooms that grow in Maryland, opened his sack to show us the Chicken of the Woods mushrooms he had just foraged and even shared his favorite mushroom recipes! It’s amazing what you can learn talking with people on the AT!
Phil had to get back to foraging and we were almost done with our hike, so Diane and I thanked Phil and headed back to our cars. As soon as I approached my vehicle, I knew something was terribly wrong…I had no car keys!!! I felt like such a knucklehead. Why, oh why had I chosen to wear my gray shorts, the ones with no pockets? (Answer: Because they are lightweight and my most comfortable shorts, and it was HOT!!!) But I know better, that’s no excuse! Right off the bat, Diane said, “Let’s go, we’ll find them.” She was ready to do that entire hike again to help me out…now that’s nice! After panicking for a few seconds, I took a deep breath and suggested we walk back to where I had taken the first picture of the day and see if they were on the ground. I figured the chances of finding a small keyring in a field with tall grasses was infinitesimal, but I wanted to be able to say, when I didn’t find them, that at least I had looked. Earlier in the hike Diane and I bonded over our shared Catholic upbringing and our recent spiritual pursuits. I jokingly said a prayer to Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost items and lost causes (this was both) and EUREKA…we found the keys right away! See, miracles really do happen!